One with nature

Huntsville State Park is a great getaway for the day or weekend

Huntsville State Park is an easy weekend getaway. Texas Parks and Wildlife

Houston is a world-class city. We have a burgeoning arts scene, a food culture that surpasses almost every other city in the United States, and neighborhoods that are finally becoming walkable. One thing we don’t have, however, is accessible outdoor activities.

When I moved back to Houston from San Marcos, I never thought about how no longer being a bike ride away from the river would affect me. I can't take a walk that ends with me being completely secluded in a bunch of trees while also somehow still being in a city with a population of 60,000. That’s what I miss most about the Hill Country. Natural beauty. 

I want my daughter to appreciate nature, and the serenity that just getting away from the city can provide. I made it my personal quest to try to get her to every park in Houston. There are, like, 500 parks — and some of them are just green spaces — but we do it. Every weekend, we get on the train and go to Discovery Green, Hermann Park, Emancipation Park. You name it, if it’s in the city we’ve tried to go.

But that’s not enough. Recently been embarking on a new quest. Where can you and the family go within a day's drive of the city? Staying overnight can be a struggle especially with children, so we’ll be focusing on only those places within two to three hours of Houston, though you can turn most of these into a weekend camping trip.

First up: Huntsville State Park.

Huntsville State Park is a great getaway for the day or for an entire weekend. One day this spring, I packed my daughter and a lunch on a whim and we drove up to Huntsville. An hour-and-a-half north of the inner loop, the state park is over 2,000 acres of trails, campsites and lakes.

One of the trails, the Triple C, is 8.5 miles long and takes over four hours to hike. We are novice hikers, and she’s a small child who definitely can’t walk for four hours, so we opted for hiking a group of three trails that all intersect toward the park entrance: the Dogwood, Prairie Branch Loop, and part of the Chinquapin (you can hike this trail by itself for three hours).

We ate lunch at a picnic table at Lake Raven, where you can fish, swim or kayak. For us city folk, the best part of Huntsville is that it is so busy all the time you’re less likely to run into any scary wildlife. The trail map said to watch out for alligators, so we were obviously on guard, but we didn’t see one.

Now, for those of you that are used to hiking and enjoy seeing coyotes, snakes, and alligators, this might actually be a turn off. Another downside of such a busy park is that I just felt like the city had relocated 60 miles north into a wooded area.

We left our house at 11 am, got to Huntsville at about 12:30 pm, ate lunch by the river and hiked until about 3 pm, and were back home before 5 pm. A great day away from the hustle and bustle of the city for the cost of gas and a $5 park entrance fee.  

We’ll be headed back this fall to camp for the weekend.

Photo by Clare O'Brien

I could talk about my dog, Marvin (who I consider my son), all day long. Literally. I love being a (hypothetical) mom, but, I feel guilty leaving him home alone all day. So, I decided to find the best places in Houston to go to that he can tag along to with me.

We started the day getting some brunch at Barnaby's in River Oak. Overall, the food was fantastic, although, we had some small issues. I think there was a total of six spots in their parking lot, after all, it is Houston. The patio was pretty small for being such a "dog-friendly" restaurant, but since it was so shady it made up for it. Since the food was so good and there are multiple locations, I would definitely come back to Barnaby's and bring Marvin.

After hanging out at the TERRIBLY small, Discovery Dog Park, we had some lunch at Good Dog in the Heights. I can't say enough about how amazing this place is! The people were so nice and seemed genuinely happy to be serving us. When we walked in, they immediately gave Marvin his own personal water bowl, which is super rare for Houston. They had games available like Corn Hole and Jenga, on their shady patio (which has a nice sized fan too). It's a very cute concept to eat hot dogs on picnic tables like you're at a B-B-Q, but with topping that you wouldn't normally expect.

For dinner, we went to Onion Creek, just down the street from Good Dog, and I loved their menu! They had a good range of appetizers and everything came out in a timely manner. They had a great big patio and tons of shade and fans! With Marvin being a black lab, I'm always concerned about the amount of shade for him. We went there to watch the Astros game and I don't think there was a bad view for anyone. They also had very clean bathrooms which is hard to find when you're doing casual dining.

We rapped things up at Nett Bar in Washington Ave area. It had decent shading, but the environment was so fun I didn't mind the fact that I was sweating buckets. They had a ping pong table, Corn Hole, Connect 4, and a bunch of other games. Parking was easy which is always a plus.

Overall, Marvin and I had a great day exploring Houston, eating a bunch of food (because of course I shared with him), meeting new people and going to new places. It's hard to find dog-friendly places that are truly dog-friendly, so, I am glad I found: Barnaby's, Good Dog, Onion Creek, and Nett Bar, for the next time I want to spend a day with my dog... which will probably be tomorrow.

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